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Venezuelan president to expel 3 US consular officials

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced late Sunday he will expel three unnamed US consular officials, accusing them of meeting with university students organising anti-government protests.

CARACAS: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced late Sunday he will expel three unnamed US consular officials, accusing them of meeting with university students organising anti-government protests.

Venezuela has been rattled by unprecedented protests by students and the opposition against Maduro's government and marred by violence that peaked Wednesday, when three people were killed and dozens injured.

Venezuela on Sunday also alleged that the United States was trying to "promote and legitimise efforts to destabilise" the country's democracy, after almost two weeks of anti-government protests.

A foreign ministry statement said President Nicolas Maduro's government "flatly rejects remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry, insofar as they represent yet another manoeuvre by the government in Washington" to exert undue influence in Caracas.

During a failed two-day coup against Maduro's predecessor in 2002, the United States voiced support for a non-elected interim leader and not the elected president at the time, US critic Hugo Chavez.

The move deeply undermined Washington's credibility in Latin America.

Kerry had voiced alarm Saturday at what he called "senseless violence" that has broken out during protests in Venezuela and heavily criticised the detention of anti-government demonstrators.

With supporters and opponents of Maduro's leftist government staging rival rallies in Caracas, following protests over soaring inflation and basic goods shortages, Kerry said he was deeply concerned, particularly at an arrest warrant being issued for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

"These actions have a chilling effect on citizens' rights to express their grievances peacefully," the top US diplomat said in a statement.

Lopez on Sunday called for a major protest march toward the Justice Ministry in Caracas.

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